Duke Ellington & John Coltrane was recorded on September 26, 1963 and released on February 1963 on Impulse! Records.
At the time of recording, Ellington was 63-years-old. Throughout the 60’s, the celebrated bandleader worked on numerous sessions with other jazz figures, including Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Charles Mingus. Around this time, he also wrote memorable scores to major films, such as Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues (1961).
Saxophonist John Coltrane was 36-years-old. In 1960, he had become the first musician to sign with the newly founded Impulse! Records label, a move that had made him the second richest jazz musician of the time – second only to Miles Davis, in fact. This move also meant that Impulse! took an active interest in making sure that Coltrane would appeal to as wide an audience as possible. The session with Ellington, a man directly responsible for some of the most famous jazz standards of all time, therefore fit nicely into the label’s plans.
Six out of seven of the original tracks on Duke Ellington & John Coltrane were, in fact, Ellington standards and newer compositions. One of them, “My Little Brown Book,” was composed by the bandleader’s close friend and collaborator Billy Strayhorn. Another, “Take the Coltrane,” is Ellington’s tribute to the co-leader of the record and a reference to the famous Ellington band theme “Take the A Train.”
The opening track, “In a Sentimental Mood,” had been composed by Ellington in 1935, which meant that he had been playing it regularly for almost thirty years. Yet, the collaboration elicited fresh takes on the tried and tested material and even featured some of Ellington’s finest moments as a small combo pianist. In reference to Duke’s performance on his own one and only composition of the album, “Big Nick” – a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie tenorist Big Nick Nicholas – Coltrane commented: “The way he plays, he can play anything!”